North Omaha group puts up air quality monitors as OPPD continues to use coal: 'We need to pay attention'

Posted at 7:06 PM, Jul 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-06 20:06:37-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Right outside the window of William King's studio at 95.7 The Boss sits a small, recently installed air quality monitor.

"We need oxygen, y'all! And we want it clean," King told his listeners. "Since we're all one community, we need to pay attention."

That's the goal of the air quality monitor near 24th and Lake Streets and four others installed so far by an "ad hoc" group in North Omaha.

"We have a lot of people in this community with asthma," King said live on air while 3 News Now talked with him. "We just want to make sure we give OPPD the data needed to reinforce the change needed to make this community healthier."

Asthma shows up in higher rates in people who live around coal power plants, health experts say.

The Omaha Public Power District has said they would stop using coal at their North Omaha plant by the end of this year. Last year, though, they pushed that plan back to 2026. Three units at the plant switched to natural gas seven years ago, but there are two more to go. OPPD says it cannot is "critical" to use coal in the remaining units in order to provide reliable energy.

Because of this, the group aimed to make air quality readings easily accessible using PurpleAir monitors at a relatively low cost.

So far, they say they've installed five, and more are in the works. When online, monitors set up by anyone can be accessed here.

"Parents want to know when the conditions are safe for their children to play outdoors," said Cheryl Weston, a member of the group.

The group says they're continuing to have conversations with the utility about their concerns.

"We want to continue to have that communication, but I think we're going in a good direction," Precious McKesson said. "But I think we could go in a better direction and making sure we're taking care of our community."

"We understand the interest in air monitoring, and we appreciate this group’s efforts," OPPD said in a statement. "It is important to understand that air quality on any given day can be impacted by many variables, including vehicle emissions, wildfires, and even weather patterns."

Their statement continues: "It is also important to note that purple air monitors are not intended to demonstrate regulatory compliance. The regulatory monitors installed in the Omaha area to measure ambient air quality show, and always have shown, that the Omaha area is in attainment with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. We perform all emissions monitoring and stack testing required at the plant, adhering to local, state, and federal standards. We publicly post our emissions reports at []...

OPPD continues our meaningful conversations with the North Omaha community, where a number of our employees and retirees also live and thrive. We take a great deal of pride in that, and in the reliable electricity that North Omaha Station has produced for nearly 70 years."

The Douglas County Health Department said in a statement it is working with the group to assist with the citizen monitoring. It said it has monitors in the county measuring for the same pollutants that the PurpleAir monitors do, but it does not have the budget to add another.

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